Redwood National Park: The Complete Guide

A hiker in California's Redwood National Park

Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

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Redwood National and State Parks

Address
California, USA
Phone +1 707-464-6101

Stand in the middle of the vast redwood forests and you may feel like you have stepped back in time. Old-growth redwood forest used to cover more than 2 million acres of the California coast, but 96 percent of the trees were cut down for logging throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, nearly half of the coastal redwoods left in the world can be found in Redwood National Park and the neighboring state parks—Jedediah Smith, Praire Creek, and Del Norte—which are usually grouped together as Redwood National and State Parks.

Whether strolling along the beaches or hiking in the woods, visitors wander in awe of the natural surroundings, abundant wildlife, and quiet peace. Redwood National Park is a reminder of what can happen when we don’t protect our lands and why it is so important to continue to conserve them.

Things to Do

Temperatures range from 40 to 60 degrees F year-round along the redwood coastline, making it a great place to visit any time of year. Summers tend to be mild with warmer temperatures inland, although the crowds are heavy this time of year and it's often foggy. Winters are cool and provide a different kind of visit, though there is a higher chance of precipitation. If you’re into bird watching, plan your visit during the spring to see migration at its peak. Fall usually sees the sunniest days, so look at a trip in September for ideal weather and to avoid summer crowds.

The redwoods are the big draw, of course, and one of the most famous trees in the park, Big Tree, is 304 feet tall, 21.6 feet in diameter, and 66 feet in circumference. Oh, and it’s about 1,500 years old.

Plan your trip during November and December or March and April for peak migration months for viewing gray whales. Bring your binoculars and watch for their spouting at Crescent Beach Overlook, Wilson Creek, High Bluff Overlook, Gold Bluffs Beach, and the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center.

Native American dance demonstrations are presented by members of the Tolowa and the Yurok tribes. Every summer, visitors learn about the significance of each Indigenous culture and view amazing dances.

Two in-park facilities are available by reservation for educational programs: Howland Hill Outdoor School and Wolf Creek Education Center. Programs are offered during the day and overnight with a primary focus on wetland, stream, prairie, and old-growth forest communities. Teachers are encouraged to call the numbers listed above. Visitors may also contact the parks' education specialist for information about ranger-guided activities for children.

Massive redwood tress along the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail in Redwoods National Park, near Orick, California USA.

Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images 

Best Hike & Trails

With more than 200 miles of trails, hiking is by far the best way to view the park. You will have a chance to view redwoods, spruce trees, beaches, and lots of native wildlife. Some trailheads are difficult to reach, so make sure you plan out where you want to hike before arriving (or ask a park ranger in one of the campgrounds for suggestions). Even in the summer, trails can be wet, muddy, and slippery, so wear appropriate clothing and watch your step.

  • Coastal Trail: About 4 miles one way, the name of this trail lets you know that you'll get some amazing beach views. In the spring and fall, you may even see migrating whales.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Grove: A great place to begin your journey in the park. The grove’s 1.5 mile-long trail showcases giant redwoods, hollowed-out trees that are still living, and amplifies how quiet and serene the park is.
  • Trillium Falls: This family-friendly hike takes about 90 minutes, has easy parking, and arrives at a small waterfall after passing through redwood groves. Hikers can usually spot herds of grazing Roosevelt elk in the meadows along the way.
  • James Irvine Trail: If you want a full-day hike, this 12-mile loop is one of the most rewarding in the park. After hiking through the old-growth forests of redwoods, you'll get to hike along the coast with the Pacific Ocean on one side and towering trees on the other.

Where to Camp

There are four developed campgrounds—three in the redwood forest and one on the coast—that provide unique camping opportunities for families, hikers, and bikers. RVs are also welcome but please note that utility hookups are not available.

Even though all four of the campgrounds are considered part of Redwood National Park, they're technically located in state parks and reservations should be made through the California State Park system. They are very popular with campers and often book up months in advance, so make sure to look at dates early.

  • Jedediah Smith Campground: This campground is located on the banks of the scenic Smith River with easy access to hiking trails, swimming, and fishing. It's open year-round, so you can enjoy Jedidiah Smith at any time.
  • Mill Creek Campground: Camp out underneath young growth redwoods at this campground, which has 145 sites and is the biggest of them all. However, it's only open seasonally, usually from May to September.
  • Elk Prairie Campground: As the name implies, you may spot some local elk hanging out around this campground in between the redwoods. It's also available for year-round camping.
  • Gold Bluffs Beach Campground: The smallest and most rugged campground is located right on the beach, so you can sleep with the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks. It's usually open-year round although may close at points throughout the year.

Visitors traveling on foot, bike, or horseback are also welcome to camp in the park’s extraordinary backcountry. Camping at one of the backcountry campsites requires a free permit, which is available online up to four weeks before your trip.

Where to Stay Nearby

Although there are no lodges within the park, there are many hotels, lodges, and inns located in the area. If you want to be as close to the park as possible, look into accommodations in the small towns of Orick and Klamath. For more options, head south a few miles to Arcata or Eureka or north a few miles to Crescent City.

  • Elk Meadow Cabins: These homey cabins in Orick come with one, two, or three bedrooms plus a full kitchen, so they're excellent for families. Apart from the foresty landscape around them, guests can also enjoy a firepit, outdoor hot tub, and guided tours through the park.
  • Carter House Inn: Eureka is the biggest city in the area and has a great downtown with lots of bars, restaurants, and things to see. The Carter House Inn is located inside a historical Victorian-style home and the room options range from quaint and cozy to spacious cottages.
  • Curly Redwood Lodge: For visits on the north end of the park, staying in Crescent City near the Oregon border is a convenient option. This 1950s style motel was built from the lumber of a single redwood tree and it is just minutes away from the Crescent City Harbor by foot.
A beach along the Redwood National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

How to Get There

The most popular way to visit the park is by driving along scenic Highway 101, known in these parts as the Redwood Highway. It takes about five and a half hours to get there by car from San Francisco or about six and a half hours if you're coming from Portland, Oregon, in the north. If you want to fly, these cities are also the nearest major airports. However, regional flights do fly into the Eureka-Arcata Airport and Crescent City Airport, so check flight availability if the drive is too long.

Local public transportation is also available into the park. Redwood Coast Transit travels between Smith River, Crescent City, and Arcata, stopping in downtown Orick.

Accessibility

Many parts of the park, including trails and picnic areas, are accessible to visitors with mobility challenges. The Simpson-Reed Grove Trail and Big Tree Wayside Trail both meet ADA standards. Wheelchairs are available to check out at designated visitor centers, including specially designed beach wheelchairs for getting around on the sand. The Jedediah Smith, Mill Creek, and Elk Prairie campgrounds all offer accessible campsites.

Tips for Your Visit

  • There is no entrance fee for Redwood National Park. However, if you plan on camping in the park, fees and reservations are required.
  • Pets are not allowed on any of the hiking trails inside any of the national or state parks, apart from a couple of roads that are also open to vehicles like Cal Barrel Road and Walker Road.
  • The famous "drive-through" redwood trees that many visitors want to see are not in the park. The closest one is in the town of Klamath, but the others are in forests about two hours south of Redwood National Park.
  • Redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth, but identifying the tallest of them all is hard because it's constantly changing. Redwoods grow quickly—sometimes a few feet in one year—and the tops are frequently knocked off by the weather.
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Redwood National Park: The Complete Guide